FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Fuel Up to Play 60 students and educators from Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire participated in the first ever New England Dairy Farmers’ Innovation Challenge on August 7th. The event, held at Gillette Stadium’s Putnam Club by New England Dairy & Food Council with the help of CustomEd, provided middle and high schools with the opportunity to connect with local dairy farmers, learn about farming and dairy nutrition, and come up with creative ways to serve and educate about dairy in schools.
During the first half of the day, school groups rotated through dairy education activities that farmers helped to facilitate. In one station students heard from dairy farmer Kies Orr about the ins and outs of running her dairy, Fort Hills Farm, in Connecticut. Orr brought along items from the farm for a show and tell, including various types of cow feed, milking equipment, and photos of the cows. Diana Whittier of Whittier Farms in Massachusetts was on hand in another station to help answer questions while students worked on evaluating how dairy is currently served with their school meals, and why it matters to them. In the third station, dairy farmers John and Robin Luther of Parnassus Farm in New Hampshire helped facilitate dairy trivia, which tested student’s knowledge about dairy nutrition and farming. The strong presence of dairy farmers at the event made a positive impression on participants.
“Meeting with the farmers made me appreciate the milk and dairy that we consume daily. I will definitely be more aware of purchasing local dairy.” Said one participant.
During lunch students got to test out a “Milk Bar” that was created specifically for this event. Participants could customize a glass of milk with a variety of toppings and flavors, including cinnamon, fresh fruit, café-style flavorings, and more. Curious students were going through the buffet-style line all through lunch.
In the afternoon students worked in school teams to create story boards and 90-second pitches that highlighted milk and other dairy products with school meals. Some teams came up with ideas for starting or strengthening farm-to-school programs, while others proposed creative new ways to serve dairy at breakfast and lunch. A milk machine that would allow students to create new flavors, and a self-serve yogurt parfait or smoothie bar at breakfast and lunch were just two ideas students came up with. A major theme throughout the afternoon was having the ability to choose and customize the dairy component of their meal.
Although it may be some time before student’s ideas are made a reality, the activity got all Challenge participants thinking about ways to innovate the dairy offerings at their school and helped them understand the importance of consuming three servings of dairy every day. One educator said, “I’m looking forward to bringing this information back to my school district.”
–New England Dairy & Food Council
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